McDonald's Halloween Pails
I have a confession to make: I am a huge fan of McDonald's restaurants. Sure, their food isn't particularly healthy and yes, their menu selection is nowhere near as good as Wendy's or Burger King, but the fast food giant shall always hold a special place in my heart. You see, my mom had decided early on in her marriage that she would only cook six nights a week. Since my dad didn't particularly enjoy cooking, it was decided that every Friday night would be take-out night. My parents used this night to enjoy various types of Asian cuisine, particularly Szechuan and Thai. As a child, I had absolutely no desire to eat this stuff. Hell, I wouldn't even eat standard Chinese food back then. It looked gross, so it logically followed that it would TASTE gross as well. Rather than listen to me whine about how gross the food was every Friday, my parents decided that I could have Happy Meal each week instead. This decision was largely one of convenience as McDonald's was less than a mile from our house, but it would shape my life for years to come. Not because of the food though; it was because of the toys.
Back in the day, McDonald's had the absolute best kids' meals, because they got all the good licenses. Whether it was Hot Wheels, Legos, Disney, Nintendo, Fraggles, The Berenstain Bears, Batman, or Looney Tunes, McDonald's almost always had something cool inside their Happy Meals. Hell, even their original toys were pretty cool. Toys like the Food Changeables and the Fast Mac cars were pretty solid too. But every so often, McDonald's would offer up a Happy Prize that was less than spectacular. You see, not all the Happy Meal prizes were toys. To help promote Santa Claus: The Movie, McDonald's gave away books. Like, with words and everything. Sure, they were a lot nicer than your average Happy Meal prize... BUT THEY WERE FUCKING BOOKS. Even worse were the lunchboxes. For some reason, some at McDonald's thought that cheap plastic monochrome lunchboxes emblazoned with McDonaldland characters would be a good prize. They weren't. Luckily for McDonald's, those crappy prizes have long since been forgotten by most people. So now I want to talk to you about a much more famous set of non-toy McDonald's prizes: the Halloween pails.
In October 1986, America was introduced to three Halloween pails: McGoblin, McBoo, and McPunk'n. The buckets were presumably intended to be taken trick-or-treating and used to collect candy, but they are far too small for that. The buckets say they are safe for children ages 1 and over, but they're hardly useful to children over the age of 4. In my experience, the pumpkin pails hold roughly one street's worth of candy, assuming the street has at least 40 houses and none of them belong to dickheads with no Halloween spirit. But once you start kindergarten, a bucket's worth of candy just isn't enough. You realize that there's a whole town's worth of free candy out there for the taking and you make your mother take you all over the neighborhood until you have enough chocolate to last you until Easter. Or maybe you don't... but I did. The existence of the McDonald's Halloween buckets create a paradox of sorts. Namely, if the buckets are only useful to children between the ages of 1 and 4, how did they ever reach their target audience? Are they really parents out there who are so goddamned irresponsible that they'd actually give a toddler a greasy cheeseburger and some salty fries instead of something healthy? I sure as hell hope not.
As a kid, I was never really a fan of the Halloween pails; I wanted free toys with my food and a seasonal orange bucket was most certainly NOT a toy. And yet, I have a shitload of them. Between us, my brother and I netted eight of these things in 1986, one apiece of each non-Halloween Friday in October. Let that sink in: EIGHT PUMPKIN PAILS. And while they made nice window decorations, that's way more pumpkin pails than any family needs. And that was just one year. In 1987, we got ten more, and it just went on from there. By the end of 1990, we had well over forty pails. They started to take up so much space in the attic that my mom threw a bunch of them out. But in her infinite mercy, she did keep at least one of every bucket. And so now, 20 years later, it is my privilege to introduce you to the 1986 McDonald's Halloween pails...
First, there was McPunk'n. That's right, McDonald's followed up the word "punk" with an unnecessary apostrophe almost two full decades before Ashton Kutcher gave us Punk'd. McPunk'n was basically a traditional Jack O'Lantern: two triangular eyes, a triangular nose, and a toothy smile. He's a little too basic for my tastes, but he does a good job of establishing the premise.
McBoo was always my least favorite of the Halloween pails, probably because he looked more like he want to fellate you than scare you. A good Jack O'Lantern should be at least a little bit spooky and McBoo is anything but. With his crescent eyes and button nose, McBoo bears a striking resemblance to Mickey Mouse. And while I do scream and change the channel whenever Mickey comes on, it's not because he's spooky. It's because he sucks.
Every group needs a bad seed, and for McDonald's Halloween pails it was McGoblin. Growing up, McGoblin was always my favorite of the pumpkins. With his angry eyes, giant nose, and misshapen mouth, how could you NOT like him? One of my best Halloween memories involves this guy. One year, my brother and I begged our dad to carve the pumpkin to look like McGoblin. Now, my dad is not a particularly artistic guy and a pumpkin is not a particularly easy palette to work with, but I'll be damned if he didn't pull it off flawlessly. And it went over huge. Visiting trick-or-treaters instantly recognized our Jack O'Lantern as McGoblin and wished they had thought of doing it first. At the time, it was easily one of the greatest things ever. Thanks, Dad.
Despite the fact they debuted nationally in 1986, 2006 technically marks the 21st anniversary of the McDonald's Halloween pails. That's because they were tested regionally in 1985, the year before their widespread release. And wouldn't you know it, I lived in one of the test markets. The 1985 pumpkins were pretty much the same as the 1986 ones, except they had slightly larger faces and they bore a 1985 copyright instead of a 1986 one. And although McDonald's ultimately settled on the names McBoo, McPunk'n and McGoblin for their pails, they tested two other names as well. In my test market, McPunk'n was issued as McPunky. In the test markets where that pail was sold as McPunk'n, McGoblin was sold as McJack. While it's easy to see why the company chose to use the McGoblin name over the super fucking generic McJack, we will probably never know why they opted for McPunk'n over the significantly cooler McPunky. However, I have a theory: Soleil Moon Frye threatened to sue.
Despite not being toys, McBoo, McPunk'n, and McGoblin were apparently a big hit. So much so, in fact, that they were reissued in 1987. After another successful run that year, the Halloween pails took a break in 1988. But they returned in 1989... WITH A VENGEANCE! This time around, McGoblin and McPunk'n were replaced with two completely new designs: McGhost and McWitch. Unfortunately, the McBlowjob pail remained.
The original Halloween pails were a clever idea, mainly because pumpkins and pails are roughly the same shape. McGhost, on the other hand, doesn't actually look like a ghost; it looks like Michael Chiklis. OK, maybe not. It doesn't look like anything, except a white pail with a face on it. As you've probably guessed by now, I'm not a big fan of McGhost. White is a rather drab color to begin with and McGhost's face is incredibly lame. If I really wanted to look at something that's round and unnaturally white, I'd buy some Wintergreen Lifesavers. That, or I'd just stare at my arm.
I already showed McBoo when I talked about 1986-87 series of Halloween pails, so I bet you're wondering why I'm showing him again. It's the same fucking pail, so what else could I possibly say about it? Well actually, it's not EXACTLY the same. For some bizarre reason, McDonald's decided to put ventilation holes in pumpkin lids. I suppose that would come in useful if your hamster suddenly needed a temporary home, but other than that, why the hell would the things need to be ventilated? The logical behind adding these holes completely escapes me, but it would seem that McDonald's considered it to be a key feature. In 1989, McDonald's decided that the pails needed BETTER ventilation. So whereas the original McBoo had four sets of small holes in its lid, the 1989 McBoo had six sets of larger holes. So if a guy ever puts a gun to your head and threatens to kill you unless you can tell him the difference between a 1986 McBoo pail and a 1989 McBoo pail, now your brains won't end up splattered all over the wall.
The third pail in the 1989 series was the Ribwich. The delicious, delicious Ribwich. Wait, that's not right... it's the McWitch. And the sandwich wasn't even called the Ribwich, it was the McRib. Christ, I was way off. The McWitch was an avocado green pail with a smiling face and a pointy witch hat for a lid. She has eyelashes and long wavy hair to help get across the point that she's a girl and a giant wart to get across the point that she's not a very attractive one. That, or it's supposed to be an homage to Cindy Crawford. The McWitch also has no nose, because witches NEVER have noses. Ever. Especially not the most famous witch in the entire fucking world. But the coup de grace is the spider in her hair. Whereas McBoo just has his name on his backside and McGhost has nothing, McWitch has a giant fucking spider living in her hair. Now that's cool. The witch was easily the most elaborate pail in the second series as well as the coolest. And even though Kung Lao didn't exist to emulate in 1989, I really enjoyed throwing the witch's hat at people.
In 1990, the pails got yet another makeover. McDonald's decided that the pails might be more fun if they were harassingly bright. Perhaps they were right; a lot of the most memorable products from the 80s and early 90s came in ridiculous colors: L.A. Gear sneakers, Reebok Pumps, Generra Hypercolor shirts, Madballs, Constructicons, David Lee Roth, the list goes on. The '90 line is probably better than '89 one and it's certainly no worse. At any rate, it was better than another reissue.
After four years, McDonald's finally gave us a new pumpkin design in 1990. Well, sort of. While the 1990 pumpkin is certainly way orangier than any previous pumpkin, the design is just a bastardized version of McPunk'n. The DayGlo pumpkin is just McPunk'n with the eyes and smile flipped around and a smaller nose. Honestly, I always wondered why they didn't use McPunk'n for the 1989 set instead of McBoo. After all, McPunk'n looks a lot more like the stereotypical Halloween decoration. With the 1990 set, it would seem that McDonald's realized their error and corrected it.
While it didn't get a completely new design, the McWitch did receive a massive makeover in 1990. The original design looked more like a queasy Vietnamese rice farmer than an actual witch, so McDonald's decided to fix that via a series of small aesthetic changes. First, they replaced the slanty eyes with more normalized ones. Second, they replaced her curly hair with blocky rectangular hair. I don't know why they thought that would look better, but it doesn't. Finally, they changed the pail's color from puke green to neon green. This change was instrumental in making this version of the pail superior to its 1989 counterpart. The fact that the spider is still there helps too.
The McGhost pail was the only one of 1989 pails not to receive any sort of facial reconstruction. However, he does have one very significant improvement: he GLOWS IN THE FUCKING DARK. I tried for like an hour to get my digital camera to take a fucking picture of this thing glowing in the dark, but it just didn't want to work. So in case you have a really shitty imagination, here's an incredible simulation of what the pail looks like in the dark.
In 1991, McDonald's decided to give out hideous McBoo bags instead of the pails. When the pails returned in 1992, things weren't quite the same. The company had decided it would be cool to include removable Halloween cookie cutters in the pail lids. In theory, it was a nice addition. While not many kids are interested in baking cookies, at least now they had the option of making them in mildly spooky shapes. Unfortunately, these cookie cutters were easy to break and even easier to lose. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the pail designs were becoming increasingly cartoonish. I had outgrown Happy Meals by this time, so I will probably be slightly biased in my coverage of the 1992 pails. However, I can assure you that they really do suck.
The 1992 pumpkin has the face printed on it in a way that was *supposed* to feign depth and make it look as though someone had actually carved it. But what this actually did was make it look STUPID. And as if that wasn't lame enough, the pumpkin is cross-eyed. To its credit, the Jack O'Lantern is the only pail in the set to make good use of the detachable cookie cutter. Because of it, the pail is able to simulate having an actual pumpkin stem. Not only that, but you can use the cookie cutter to make pumpkin cookies just the like ones they sell in the bakery department of your local supermarket. Sorry, the sandlike orange cookie topping is not included.
McWitch finally got a nose, but it's a little too phallic for my taste. The face actually doesn't look too bad on this pail, but everything else does. They queered up that spider a whole lot and the hat looks awful. The color change isn't really a problem, but the overall shape of the hat just isn't as natural as it was in the past. And since you can't tell from the picture, the cookie cutter is a cat. It's probably *supposed* to be a black cat, but that's entirely contingent on whether or not you mix black food coloring into your cookie dough.
In 1992, McDonald's decided to take the ghost pail back to its roots. Instead of making it cool and glowy like the 1990 model, they made it plain and boring like the original pail. As a result, this model is a goofy ass ghost with hands and a dimple. Out of the three pails in this set, the ghost benefits least from the addition of the pointy top. Instead of looking more spectral, it looks like the World's Happiest Klan Member. The pail's cookie cutter is also a ghost, albeit a really fat one. That, or it's Ted Kennedy.
After 1992, the pails only got worse. The next set, released in 1994, had awful designs that included a wall of ghosts and a purple witch. After that, the pails went on hiatus until 1999. When they returned, McDonald's abandoned the idea of character pails entirely in favor of panoramic scenes featuring Klasky-Csupo style drawings of the McDonaldland gang. After realizing that they hadn't yet completely raped the idea of any coolness it may have originally had, McDonald's issued another set of pails in 2001. This time around, they didn't even have lids. As of 2006, these abominations remain the last set of Halloween pails ever issued. Now, I'm not saying the pails should bring them back; they're a disappointing Happy Meal prize and most kids would probably prefer a new set of Halloween McNugget Buddies instead. But it really sucks that they ended on such a low note.
It is frustratingly hard to find reliable information about past Happy Meal promotions online in general and the Halloween pails in particular. This can largely be blamed on McDonald's themselves. Not only do they fail to maintain a history of Happy Meal prizes on their website, but they also misrepresented the year of issue on most of the Halloween buckets when they made them. To explain the situation, here's Craig T. Nelson:
You son of a bitch, you left the copyright date and you only changed the buckets! YOU ONLY CHANGED THE BUCKETS! WHY? WHY??
Yes, it's true. McDonald's left the 1986 copyright date on the Halloween buckets for over a decade. Now granted, this wasn't a big deal in 1987 when the buckets were virtually unchanged from the previous year. But in 1989, a new copyright date was definitely in order. Since two new designs were introduced that year, it just would have made more sense. Although the 1986 date remained on buckets up through 1999, the company began adding a second copyright date starting with the 1992 series. Unfortunately, the second date was equally useless. Buckets made in 1992 are marked with the years 1986 and 1991, and the ones made in 1994 and 1999 are marked with 1986 and 1993. It would not be until 2001, fifteen years after their original national release, that Halloween pails were marked with year in which they were issued. Today, the incorrect dates on the Halloween pails are the cause of some confusion. First, they have led many eBay auctioneers to advertise newer sets as being from 1986. But more importantly, it makes it near impossible for someone who didn't live through the Halloween pail phenomenon as it was happening to piece together what pails were part of what sets. And while I doubt there are many people collecting these things, it was still a pretty retarded thing for the company to do.
When I started writing this article, I thought I was going to bitch a lot more. On the one hand, you couldn't get a fun prize at McDonald's during the month of October because they were giving these out instead. Hell, you didn't even get one of those cardboard Happy Meal boxes with corny jokes and retardedly easy matching games on them; the Halloween bucket was both your Happy Meal prize AND the carrying case for your food. And while the Halloween pails were utterly useless, I can't help but like them. For me, the Halloween pails remain one of the most critical events of 1986. Sure, other stuff happened back then, happenings that some charlatans might deem "more important". For instance, The Challenger exploded in 1986. The Boston Celtics won their 16th NBA championship in 1986. And finally, the lovable New England Patriots lost Super Bowl XX to the cocksucking Chicago Bears in 1986. And while these were all fairly notable moments, those stupid orange pails were by far the most indelible image of 1986. If '86 was Iwo Jima, the McGoblin pail was that picture of those guys raising the American flag. And so, I salute you, McDonald's Halloween pails. You may not be one of the coolest things I ever got from a Happy Meal, but you are one of the most memorable.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN AGE 1 AND OVER.